Kale comes in a number of forms and Black Toscana is possibly the best looking and has the best and most refined taste. It is variably known as ‘Nero di Toscana’, ‘Tuscan Kale’ and ‘Cavola Nero’, ‘Lacinato’ or just ‘black cabbage’ and is part of the Brassica oleracea Acephala group. It grows long thin dark green to purple leaves usually from a single main growth point and the leaves are heavily savoyed (wrinkled and bumpy like quilting).
The leaves can get up to about a metre long in good growing conditions with plenty of water and manure etc. They can grow well in a fairly crowded bed but will generally fill the available space and spread out if given the chance.
They will regrow new tips if you harvest the tops off early in the season but the primary growth tends to be the most profuse and best producer. You can just harvest single sleeves from the outer edges and keep the main tip growing for many months.
They are very cold hardy and tend to like the cold weather and produce best during winter and into late spring and then tend to taper off and flower for mid summer. This is especially the case if they get dry hot weather at any point.
They love water and even though they will grow ok with average soil moisture just love a heavy rain period.
They do tend to attract the usual range of Brassica pests like caterpillars and various aphids if given the chance. Best to stay on top of that and remove them as soon as you see them appear.
They flower and seed profusely and as long as you exclude other brassicas they will tend to grow very constantly true to their parents with a few interesting variations that appear. You should grow a good sized patch by just scattering the seed on some prepared soil and standing back… they grow fast and furious. Then just thin them out by harvesting as needed to eat.
The available water, food and weather will determine the colour and how dark they grow. In ideal conditions in cold weather they will almost appear fully black.
The taste also will vary a lot with the growing conditions.
They can occasionally get quite a strong cabbage like flavour and smell but generally they have a pleasant savoury taste.
Generally you slice them up or pull them apart and quickly steam or lightly and quickly sauté them for a simple dish. There are numerous options for cooking them and the classic additions of lemon juice and butter rounds them out beautifully. They add depth and flavour to other dishes as well such as a small amount added to a Bolognese pasta sauce where they can just dissolve – but you can ‘feel’ it in the dish.
They also make nice tasty ‘chips’ if you dry bake them for about 30 minutes in an oven. (like other kale varieties )
Many chefs reject using kale because they either don’t have access to it really fresh or get stressed out about it because it doesn’t come in mini vegetable form through the markets – or they cook it like cabbage and it has that unpleasant overcooked texture, smell and taste. I have seen some really badly cooked kale in restaurants….
If you pick the tiny new leaves it can be eaten raw with some lemon juice for a very nice taste experience – although a very quick blanching can help with the larger leaves.
A small patch in late winter as they develop some good flavour and colour. You can see the odd leaf with a snail or caterpillar hole. The cold will reduce these and the very fast growth will help in spring to outgrow these issues.